You spoke to me and I had no choice but to listen.
You quieted me in a way that not many things ever have, sweet William Odin. While I carried you inside me, so many things about me began to change, and while I know many factors played into that, I have to give you some credit. A gladness and freedom blossomed in my soul, and somewhere in that time nurturing and nourishing you, preparing you to be born, I was born a little bit, too. You and your brothers are all special and perfect in your own way, but that is how I will always look at you – a sneaky poet who personified God’s sweet grace in a year that began without much promise.
You are named Odin because, well, isn’t that just such a cool name? That was really all the reasoning I had prior to your birthday. It was only after your arrived that your granddad told me he had chanted your name many times before parades at West Point, an appeal to the Norse God for rain. And alongside him, he’d heard an army of cadets singing out the name you now wear, thousands of men and women projecting one single, deep bellow, stretching across the Hudson River. He smiled at the memory, and for that smile alone, I knew the name was perfect. It is also the smile you bear when you have funny dreams – a genetic heirloom, passed down across the generations, and relatively untouched across more than a hundred years of dilution.
But William. You are William because I wanted to pay tribute to one of the sweetest souls I’ve ever known. William grew up at my house, best friend to my baby brother, and often fell naturally into the role of bonus baby brother. A blonde-brunette pair of twin tornadoes: Will and Jake. These were the annoying punks trying to steal my diary, the kids I’d play-fight or sometimes literal-fight on the backyard trampoline. We used acorns as currency in back yard imaginary games of “village,” we had at least one minor fender bender (thanks, Dad) under our belt, along with countless summer storms hiding in a beach towel “fort.” Of course, I assumed the world would never be without either of these two. But we couldn’t keep William. Just a little more than three years before you were born, I whispered goodbye to him through a cell phone that Jake held up to his ear as he sat at his hospital bedside in Charleston. Months ago, I knew this just had to be your name.
And I knew your song months ago, a little ditty by the name of “Fever to the Form,” by Nick Mulvey, and on Monday, October 24th, 2016 I listened to it – crouching by the foot of my bed, swaying and praying through the waves that told me you were on your way.
“Go on…fill your heart up with gladness, not a moment too soon,” Nick sang to me as the pressure built up inside me. I had been at it for four hours or so by then. Tears were forming, but not because I hurt – I just was so thankful to know this was the day I’d see your face, that I was here. I was so thankful for everything that had evolved in this year as my belly grew and my body tired. And not a moment too soon, the day had come. The labor to bring you earthside began at lunchtime and took hold of me quickly – I knew I wouldn’t have to wait long.
“Cause the very thing you’re afraid, it keeps you clean but unclear, is the dirt that you’re made of, and that’s nothing to fear,” Nick whispered through my earbuds. The tip top of the contractions had an extra little punch to them and I knew it was time to go. I knew there was nothing to be afraid of, that the joy on the other side of this would be worth every bit of the work I had to do now. I kissed your brothers goodbye and off we went, my mother following closely behind. Your daddy was worried we’d lose her on the way, but I told him there was no way your granny would let that happen, and I was right.
In rush hour Monday traffic, we made our way to the birth center to meet Sharon, one of the midwives. During the drive, I felt you move and my back seized up almost immediately. It’s quite possible you turned upward to face us at this point, and I can’t tell you it didn’t throw me off kilter a bit – but I stayed the course and knew that if I kept moving around, you’d figure it out on your own. I was talking nonsense on the car ride. At one point, your daddy said I looked up at the Bon Secours Arena and said, exhausted already, “Oh, I’d love to see Garth.” This was news to him ten years into our marriage, this business of me being a huge Garth Brooks fan. We parked in front of the midwife office and Sharon looked at me like she could see how challenging this already was for me. Your brothers’ births were beautiful in their own ways, too. But they were certainly less challenging. I was prepared for this, but it’s just you can imagine how something feels all day and it still won’t be the same as actually feeling it. In that reality and in the symbolism behind your name, I felt like your birth was just one big analogy. And the English major in me liked that.
“Still only 4 cm,” Sharon said, knowing how disappointed I was going to be at the lack of progress since an earlier check that morning had yielded the same results. I decided the work just wasn’t done yet.
“Let’s walk.” It wasn’t that I really felt up to the stroll, it’s just I knew the “only way out was through,” so I welcomed the chance to move things along. It was a beautiful evening outside, just cool enough to keep me comfortable when the waves of nausea began to hit me. We ambled between empty medical offices and the birth center parking lot, stopping as necessary so your daddy could squat down in front of me and I could use him as a place to rest during the peak of each wave. Your daddy, you should know, is what I hope you and your brothers will be one day – A towering redwood in a forest so often overrun by flimsy pine. There inside the hurricane of birthing a child, amidst what was happening, your daddy was unfazed. Unwavering. Constant. A hand on my shoulder telling me to “Relax,” without an ounce of patronization.
In the garden outside the birth center, I planted myself stubbornly by the little waterfall. I could feel you pushing downward with more force now, and it was all I could do to stay above the surface with each wave. I focused my eyes downward on one of the stepping stones beneath my feet, with the word “Strength” etched into it. I drew deeper and deeper within myself to clear out every noise and focus on what I was doing, which worked most of the time, even if that sometimes meant that I was going to get sick (which I did, several times).
“We should probably go upstairs and check you again,” Sharon mused slyly over my shoulder, though I didn’t hear her words – your daddy had to repeat them to me before I realized what was going on. She could see that I was moving closer to the time I’d been waiting on. I was in my own world, but I was so hopeful that you were ready, and you were. 6 cm dilated. I was so thankful for just that little 2 cm of progress, because I knew I was going to be able to get in the water pretty soon and I hoped that would make things calm down a bit. As we entered the birthing suite downstairs, my other midwife Jill arrived and cradled me against her in a soothing hug for a moment before I had to climb another wall.
The next half hour or so was a blur. To call these things “waves” really doesn’t capture how they evolve over the course of bringing a baby into the world. Because while the earlier wave may lap at your ankles and tickle your toes, the tide builds. Later, the waves crash into you, suck you under, and leave you humbly waiting for its power to subside. That was the point I was at. Holding onto your granny’s legs while your daddy was putting pressure on my lower back, I remember one thing clearly. I distinctly recall uttering the word “Mama,” while I perched the peak of a wave. It’s a phrase I don’t think I’ve said quite that way since I was 6 or 7. She was “Mom” up until that moment, and then for a few minutes, she became “Mama.”
And then a shift.
“I think you need to check me again,” I told the midwives. They said I was ready to get in the tub to start pushing to bring you into the world. My mind went blank and I looked at your daddy and exasperatedly said “What does that mean?” I wasn’t making a lot of sense at that point, but I remember saying “Let’s do this” in between two building, cavernous waves – the kind that suck you under the water and then whip you around just before you find a way to break the surface.
It took everything in me. Something about becoming your mother brought me back to where I began. Gone from my mind was every failing, every lacking, every unanswered question hanging in my mind from my life, particularly the last few years of mom guilt, marital trials, and professional self-questioning. You took me back to my center, my core, sweet William Odin. Funny how a bit of physical hurt can be healing sometimes. And all the while, that song, your song strumming in my head, somehow louder than the actual meditation tracks I had playing to try to calm myself.
“How did i know what you’re thinking
Maybe i thought it before
Maybe that’s why I’m at your window
And I did hear you, just as I heard my own sounds change and I knew you were going to be meeting us. In the tub, body floating just enough to take the weight of gravity off my exhausted bones, I leaned back against your daddy’s strong legs and tried to hear what the midwives were telling me. I never thought about giving up, just about how to work more efficiently to bring you to us faster. My husband’s focus and the tears welling up in my mother’s eyes told me you were close, but I was beyond ready to meet you, to be done with the work.
Curled up into myself for one last push, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the tattoo on my right ankle, the one I had done in my father’s boxy handwriting using a sample scrawled on the back of a business card, saying “March Forth.” A voice broke through from Jill.
“Relax. Look down.” I didn’t have to look down, because I knew you were already there. Up you came, out of the water, Jill and Sharon’s loving hands guiding you up into mine. You were soft, quiet, and absolutely perfect in that beautiful moment I had always wanted. All the pain was gone, and the room was filled with complete joy.
There holding you on October 24th, 2016, I thought about what a beautiful, crazy life this is and how much I treasured the gift you had just given me. I understand now, William Odin. I heard you loud and clear. This is your story, the story of how you first spoke to me.